What It’s Like

Have you ever noticed no one ever really asks what depression is like? It’s odd, considering people are prone to ask all kind of questions about other seemingly taboo conditions, everything from colonoscopies to prostate exams to hemorrhoids. With depression, though, there seems to be some type of fear of the unknown, as if knowing about it will forever lead a person down as long and dark a road as the person they are talking to.

What I have found, however, is that people who suffer from depression seem to not have much of a problem talking about themselves. Or at least they don’t have a problem talking about it with counselors or other depressives. With the rest of the “normal” population? Eh, not so much. I know in my case it is because I feel an immense weight to keep up the facade that I am a good person who has been blessed greatly and always does what is right.

I can assure you here, I am not that person.

Take today, for instance. The blade on my riding lawnmower has stopped working for the umpteenth time now. In itself, this would be a regular snag of life, something to be repaired in the natural stream of occurrences. Not for a depressive who is having an off-day, however. I was already quite overwhelmed by school and work from the rest of the week coming into today, and I had not been able to get to the yard all week because of intermittent rain nearly every day. Even the sections I finished were difficult, as wet grass kept clumping up beneath the blade deck, actually killing the engine a few times. About 15 minutes in, I just wanted to be done with the whole thing, but I still had a at least another acre to go.

This feeling of wanting to quit eventually began to spread into other parts of my brain, and suddenly nothing seemed particularly worth doing anymore. I tried to pray that the lawn would become easier to mow and that the feeling would pass, but that was almost exactly when the blade stopped engaging. I was then able to completely bypass everything else and focus all my anger and frustration directly on God, who, instead of making things easier, saw fit to make them infinitely more difficult. Yes, I believe God can control lawnmower blades.

Following a (very) halfhearted and unsuccessful attempt at using a push mower to complete my task, I decided depressionperhaps a bicycle ride would do me good. After all, exercise is highly recommended for those who suffer from depression. It is supposed to work as a natural mood enhancer, and sometimes it does. Today, however, I was struck nearly immediately by the same feeling I had on the lawnmower: I want to quit. Being nearly four miles from home, however, I didn’t really have much option as to whether to continue on. I did make it home eventually, but I really wasn’t feeling any better about things.

And now I am here at this keyboard, realizing I haven’t written much of anything at all here all week, even though blogging is probably one of my most enjoyable activities. Today, though, nothing is really feeling like much of an enjoyable activity. No future scenario looks all that good to me. No present assignments seem all that important to complete. And at the same time, I feel an overpowering fear within me of being bored and finding myself un-useful to everyone. I want to be alone, but I am afraid of being thrown away. I know exactly what I want, but I have no way of getting it at the moment. Or at least that is what I have convinced myself.

So this is what it can be like. Is every day like this for me? Thankfully, no. But a lot of them are. And a lot of them are for other people as well. We just don’t tell you because we know you’ll either judge us, run away from us, or start trying to help us by throwing out advice we’ve heard about a billion times before over the course of our lives. We put up strong, friendly, smiling fronts, and all the while we can feel tears welling up behind our eyes and lumps buried in our throats. We don’t want you to see that, though. More accurately, we don’t feel like we can let you see that.

Sometimes we just need to know we can break down. We need to know we can unleash our secret thoughts and not be judged for them. We want someone to just say hello for the heck of it. We want to think something is worth fighting for, without everyone dictating to us what that something is. We need honesty and transparency. And more often than not, we get none of those things.

This is what it is like.

 

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Tuneful Tuesday: Everything Has Changed

In May, for my job, I attended a concert featuring contemporary Christian bands The Afters and Hawk Nelson. It was a pretty decent show, even though neither of those bands are exactly on my list of favorites. The Afters probably had the more polished sound, but Hawk Nelson brought more energy to their stage show. Plus, I would up downloading a Hawk Nelson song after the concert, so I guess they won the night.

Except they didn’t, really. The opening act of the concert was advertised as Dan Bremnes, but when we arrived we noticed banners up for Justin McRoberts. I was familiar with one of Bremnes’s songs, but I had never heard of McRoberts. Turns out, he’s been around for quite a while, but has stuck mostly to the independent circuit. After a few notes of his first song, though, I was hooked. This dude could sing, and he was a fiery and passionate singer and storyteller as well. He performed with only an acoustic guitar, but for me he stole the show.

Justin McRobertsSince that night (and a few additional downloads of his music), I keep an eye out for mentions of McRoberts. I caught one this weekend on the NoiseTrade.com website. For anyone who is not familiar with it, NoiseTrade offers music for free downloads, with the option of leaving a “tip” for the artist. McRoberts had a song titled “Everything Has Changed” on a sampler from the syndicated radio program Under the Radar titled Escape to the Lake. Under the Radar features music from Christian artists who do not receive the type of radio airplay of, say, The Afters or Hawk Nelson.

I am not having the greatest of weeks so far (Read yesterday’s post for further explanation.). Right now, as I’m typing this, I don’t feel as if there is anything in the world I can actually do right. I feel as if all the progress I thought I had made recently was merely an apparition and that I am going to forever cycle in and out of feeling like there is no hope in even trying. I don’t want to just change small parts of me; I want to change everything.

This song by McRoberts is a mighty realization and coming to terms with who someone is and the changes they have made to become, in their eyes at least, a better person. It’s about freedom, or, more specifically, getting free from yourself. It really is a song about everything changing. I have listened to it five times now just in the course of typing this blog. It is where I want to be. It is who I want to be.

Everything will change. That’s what I need to hold onto right now. Everything will change.

(Unfortunately, I could not find a video for this song, so I am including the link to the NoiseTrade page with the sampler. It is well worth the download.)

http://noisetrade.com/escapetothelake/escape-to-the-lake-2015-22-artist

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

Nobody’s Perfect (So Don’t Act Like You Are)

For those of you wondering where I have been for the past few days, let me offer up a brief summation…

First off, my laptop died (or, at least, it started letting me know it had plans of dying very, very soon), and my Wednesday evening was spent having dinner with a friend who had agreed to look at it for me. On Thursday, I had an interview with two professors from the graduate program I’ve been trying to get into … and you can now strike the word “trying” from that last sentence, because I found out Friday I’M IN! I’ll write more about that another day. And then last night, I blew off writing anything to eat tacos and watch a movie. I know, what dedication to the craft…

The last post I wrote had to do with Bruce Jenner, and my blog received a rather large spike in viewership as a result. To be honest, though, I wasn’t particularly comfortable writing it, because it felt as if I was attempting to cash in on the Topic of the Day. It did have a connection, though, to mental behaviors and psychology and even depression, so I put my hesitations aside and plowed on.

For the past several days, I’ve been pondering another very public situation – the downfall of Joshua Duggar. I’ll try duggarto summarize briefly: Josh Duggar is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the Duggar clan featured on the (currently suspended) TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. He was formerly the director of FRC Action, the non-profit political action and lobbying arm of the Family Research Council. He resigned from the position May 21, after reports became public that he had molested five girls (including some of his sisters) when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Because of his status as a Christian family advocate and the fact that is the son of parents who have chosen to bring 19 children into the world, Josh Duggar quickly became an easy target for anyone with a bone to pick against religion, conservatism, large families, and basically anything else the more liberal pockets of society seem to be opposed to these days. Even before any of this information came to light, however, people were referring to the Duggar family as “freaks” because of the way they chose to live. For Joshua Duggar’s failures to be pushed into the publicly eye so vehemently was simply like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Let’s put it plainly: What Josh Duggar did was wrong. Even if he was the victim of teenage hormones run amuck, a man or boy simply cannot ever do what he did. At the same time, his family (most notably, his molested sisters) seems to have forgiven him, and no further incidents beyond those teen years have been discovered. He is 27 years old now and has a wife and children of his own. No charges were filed, and all the parties affected seem to want to move on.

Why are we staying on this then?

The more I think about the answer to that question, the more I come closer to the following conclusion: I’m not so sure people are half as mad about what Josh Duggar did as the fact that he and his family had worked very hard to lead us to believe nothing is or ever was wrong with them. The Duggars have written books and spoken at conferences and appeared on television, and never once did they mention this skeleton in their closet. Josh Duggar thumped plenty of podiums with FRC Action, always displaying a righteous indignation against evil in the world. You may have thought the Duggars were weird, but you also probably couldn’t find much to call them out on. They made fairly sure of that.

As a self-deprecating kind of person, I gave up a long time ago trying to present myself as anything other than flawed. Even the best of us have made mistakes, though. I would think at some point while the Duggars were earning all that money on their television show and books that they might have mentioned this unfortunate chapter in their lives. Not a word, though. That, I believe, is where the outrage lies. If you’re sitting on a secret, don’t push yourself out in public in front of everyone and tell them how good you are. At least own it at some point.

Strangely, I dislike the Duggars now because of the good things they tried to present, instead of the bad thing they tried to hide. Does everyone need to shout their deepest, darkest secrets from the rooftops? No. What they can do, though, is not proclaim their righteousness from every street corner either. There are none of us who are perfect, and we do the world a great disservice when we try to convince everyone that we are. The damage will come eventually, sooner or later. Promoting goodness is a positive thing; claiming to have the market cornered on it is not.

God And Suicide

“The man who kills a man kills a man
The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” – G. K. Chesterton

I am not Catholic, but I formed a very firm belief growing up: If a Christian (or anyone else, for that matter) commits suicide, they will go to Hell. That was just the rule; God didn’t like suicide, so if you took your own life, you were going to spend your eternity in endless torment. Period. End of story.

Today, I’m not so sure anymore.

———-

I’m not sure if this is due to my depression or personality or selfishness or just outright sinful nature, but my relationship with God always seems to be in a state of perpetual flux. I grew up largely afraid of Him, knowing that if I didn’t “get saved,” I would be doomed to eternal damnation. Despite singing “Jesus Loves Me” a billion times or attending every vacation Bible school in the county every year or seeing those painted pictures of the meek and mild Jesus, I was convinced God was not someone I wanted to cross. I suppose I was right, in a way. The fear of the Lord, after all, is the beginning of wisdom.

From there I moved on to firmly believing God was real and that Jesus was His one and only son. Once I realized what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Calvary meant for me, I developed a sincere appreciation for what he had done. That appreciation gradually morphed into a genuine affection, which was then assaulted by years of well-meaning Christians manipulating, bullying, and using me. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. I came to believe God didn’t really like me very much and merely tolerated my existence because He had to. It was a miserable place to be.

In recent years, I’ve come to understand grace better. I don’t constantly worry about my every sin sending me to hell anymore. I don’t think God hates me anymore. I’m even developing something of a compassion for those struggling with sin, which my early version of faith simply had no tolerance for. At the same time, though, Christianity sometimes feels more like a set of rules I am destined to never keep fully, even though that is the point of grace in the first place: We will never be good enough on our own. That is why Christ’s sacrifice was required. Still, the notion of constantly failing sometimes weighs on me. I mean, can’t I get it right just once…?

———-

Still, despite some of my struggles and misgivings about my faith, the notion of a graceful Father and Son has taken hold of me as of late. I’m beginning to believe His grace extends far beyond where I initially thought it did. Sometimes I think I might be becoming a little too comfortable with the concept of grace. I mean, this is still a God who does not let everyone into Heaven, no matter how good they’ve been. He demands allegiance, but He asks for it in love. It is a strange combination, and it is not one I claim to understand fully.

Circling back to the topic of suicide, one of the more common arguments I hear for those who commit it going to Hell is that it breaks the sixth of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not murder. The logic here is that if someone kills themself, they have in effect committed murder against their own person. Therefore, instead of saying “He killed himself,” you could say “He murdered himself.”

This argument doesn’t really hold water, though. If breaking the sixth commandment will cast you into Hell, what about the ones about lying or stealing? People covet stuff all the time. Is that an automatic ticket to Hades? Apparently not, as many people who covet things are still recognized as being Christians. In fact, murderers were put to great uses in the Bible, most notably in the case of Saul/Paul.

I suppose, then, that perhaps it is the person killing themselves’ relationship with Christ that is the key part of this equation. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to know. Attempting to figure out if someone is “truly” a believer is like trying to figure out what a dog is thinking at any particular moment of the day. You may have an idea, but you really don’t know. Only that person and God know. Someone might say the evidence here is in the fruit, where a person chose to check out rather than have faith in things getting better. Suicide is the ultimate lack of faith, they might say.

I think they’re wrong.

———

Here is where my problem with the “Everyone who commits suicide goes to Hell” theory lies: I’m not so sure a loving God, who is compassionate and kind and just, would look upon a person who has been abused or molested or is chemically imbalanced or has never been able to grasp happiness of any kind in this world and condemn them to the pits of Hell forever if they reached a moment where they just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to end their own life.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t think God smiles upon the practice of suicide. In fact, in every instance in the Bible I can think of where one of his representatives in this world wanted their life to end, He very directly provides them a reason to keep on living. I believe He does have a purpose beyond the pain, and I believe He desperately wants everyone to embrace life and not throw in the towel. To ever call God an advocate of taking one’s own life would be madness.

As we all know, though, God’s intentions and our actions do not always coincide with each other. Even though He wants His children to succeed, they fail. In fact, they fail spectacularly sometimes. This must grieve Him, as it would any father. If one of my children were ever to commit suicide, though, would I stop loving them? Would I hope for their punishment because of what they did?

What kind of father would I be?

———-

In the end, even after all of my rambling, there is no definitive answer to the question I have posed here. None of us can be completely sure of where the soul of someone who commits suicide finds its final resting place. Whereas the Quran very specifically forbids suicide, the Bible is strangely vague about the subject. In fact, the Bible is vague on a great many things, as if God wanted us to figure things out on our own rather than be mindless robots in His service.

Perhaps vagueness is the point on an issue such as this, though. Perhaps the hint of doubt, uncertainty, and fear of what might happen if we went through with the act was purposefully left there by God to keep us from going all the way. I mean, what is scarier than Hell? We have to know that whatever torment we are facing here would be magnified a hundredfold in Hell. The lake of fire becomes a safety valve in this instance. What’s going on now may be bad, but it couldn’t be as bad as that.

For the moment, I am choosing to believe that the person who succumbs to the temptation of suicide does not automatically go to Hell. The more I come to know people who have wrestled with the concept of it and have been touched by it themselves, the more I realize life is harder for some than for others. Some constitutions are sterner, some shoulders broader, some wills more unbreakable. God bless the strong people. The weak people need you. need you.

———-

The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis has inspired me more times than I can count over the course of my life. This man observed intense grief and wrote about it eloquently in his book “A Grief Observed.” I’d like to conclude with a quote from that work:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

 

Tuneful Tuesday: What I’m Looking For

There are a number of songs I can remember from my lifetime that I just did not “get” when they were popular. Sometimes I was too young to understand what they were talking about. Sometimes I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate them. And, probably, sometimes I just didn’t care what they meant. Whatever the case, I didn’t appreciate these songs fully until they had passed their apex of popularity.

A prime example of this is U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” from the band’s mega-selling album The Joshua Tree. Those old enough to remember when this album was current will no doubt recall that radio, television, and virtually every other type of media was saturated with all things pertaining to the Irish rock band. As is my common practice when I feel someone or something is being overexposed, I eventually just stopped paying much attention to all the hoopla, which is sort of a shame, because The Joshua Tree is a really brilliant album, recorded before U2 lost some of the fire that made them such a treat to listen to in their early days.

Beyond the fatigue aspect, though, I had a difficult time reconciling Bono’s lyrics to the Christian beliefs he seemed to express. I mean, if you are a Christian and you’ve met Jesus, what more could you be looking for? Even outside of the religious slant, if you climbed the “highest mountain,” what else do you have to accomplish? If you’ve kissed “honey lips,” what lust is there left to satisfy? If Bono had found all that, what in the world could he still be looking for?

All the years later, I understand what he was singing about. Whether it is a symptom of depression or middle age or simple selfishness, there is still a large amount of dissatisfaction residing within me. Whatever that missing piece is that will make me feel whole, I haven’t found it yet. Religion, family, work… There is still something not quite right, and I have not been able to identify what that is. There is a peace and joy which still eludes me. Sometimes I believe I have found what I lack, only to see it slip away once more. Sometimes I wonder if such a thing exists at all.

I used to sit back and declare judgement on Bono for not being satisfied with what he had. I wish now that I could take those words of condemnation back. I get it now. And I’m still looking, too.

Read More, Pray Harder

“As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, ‘Melancholy marked them for her own;’ fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud.”

To many people of faith, the preceding paragraph may border on heresy to their sensibilities. That “gloomy tinge” should not exist in a mind set on the joy and peace of Jesus Christ. Remembering “only the cloud” runs counter to admonitions to command your downcast soul to praise the Lord at all times. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Right?

What heretic uttered these blasphemous words? None other than Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers.” spurgeon_chairSpurgeon did not just have his down days; he suffered from bouts of full-blown depression. “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for,” he once said. He described his depression as his “worst feature” and spoke of how he was “heartily ashamed” of it. He also firmly believed, though, that “there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

To be a Christian with depression is often an uphill climb, not only because of the sometimes debilitating effects of the illness itself, but also because it seems almost offensive to other believers. There is frequently a sort of unspoken vibe that maybe that depressed person is not really doing enough to deal with their mood. Maybe they’re not reading their Bible enough. Maybe their prayer life is lacking. Maybe they don’t really know God that well. Maybe they’re not saved at all.

Of course, as in Spurgeon’s case, those doubts could not be further from the truth. In many instances, depressed people are turning to the Bible more and praying more than most of their fellow congregants. For the severely depressed who have reached the end of their ropes, their cries to God are probably more fervent than any jubilant saint. Too often, though, the advice given to Christians in this predicament is almost offensively simple: “You need to read your Bible more and pray harder.”

It has been a struggle in my own life to not harbor resentment toward fellow Christians who did not understand not being able to fully grasp piece of mind. After many years, however, I realized anger was a wasted emotion in this instance. Some people, I finally concluded, just don’t understand depression because they’ve never experienced it. They may have had “the blues” from time to time, but never wrestled with days of utter hopelessness. While their advice may have been misguided, it was not malicious. They just wanted to point me to what worked for them, and that’s fine.

Spurgeon was correct in his assessment that a holy faith in God can lift a soul from the depths of depression. Just as he never stopped battling his own hopelessness, however, sadness in a fellow Christian is not an indicator that they have given up the fight. They may be chasing God with all their heart and soul. The good news is, if they are, He will be found.

Epilogue

I like books. I don’t mean I just like reading books. I mean I like books. It just feels wrong to me to read a book off of a computer screen. I like to turn the pages. I like to feel it in my hands. I like to find some odd piece of scrap paper or some random bookmark to hold my place until I can start reading again. I like to see books sitting on my bookshelf, whether I actually read them or not.

Because of this, I love to randomly cruise bookstores. I hardly ever buy anything. It’s odd. I can watch a movie multiple times and not get tired of it, but once I finish a book, well, I’ve finished it. I don’t pick it up and read it again. Nevertheless, I still like to rummage through bookstores, and occasionally I will actually spend a little money on something to read.

beyond beliefOne of my purchases last year was Josh Hamilton’s autobiography Beyond Belief. The book had been out for several years, so I was able to snag it cheap at the local Books-A-Million. Hamilton was still a member of the Texas Rangers when the book was published, before he signed a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. I had a little money with me and had always wanted to read it, so I bought the paperback edition.

By now, even non-baseball fans know Hamilton’s story of being a five-tool prospect to bottomed-out drug and alcohol addict who was booted out of baseball completely to born-again Christian who rose from the ashes of his own story to return to the major leagues and become a star player. It is a truly inspiring story, a light of hope for anyone who has ever sank to the depths of addiction and wondered if they could ever recover again.

On the left side of the book’s cover, there is a small, red circle. Typed in white letters are the words “Includes a New Chapter Updating Josh’s Journey.” This update comes in the form of an epilogue added to the end of the book. In the epilogue, Hamilton and his wife, Katie, recount his 2009 relapse, during which he was photographed shirtless in an Arizona bar with several women.

Unfortunately, the events described in that epilogue would not represent the last time Hamilton would relapse. Major League Baseball officials are currently debating whether or not to suspend Hamilton for admitting to abusing alcohol and cocaine this past February. At issue is whether the incident constitutes a violation of the drug treatment Hamilton was required to be a part of to be reinstated to baseball in 2006. He could be facing up to a year’s suspension from the game.

We Christians love heroes. We love to celebrate stories of recovery, and we love to push those who have those stories out in front of the crowd. When one of them falls, the public fallout can be vicious. Christians and non-Christians get angry. At the heart of their anger is this: That person claimed to be one thing and turned out to be another.

Obviously, Hamilton’s latest relapse is a stark reminder to Christians everywhere that no one is above a fall from grace. It is also a reminder of why people become Christians in the first place. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to stumble from time to time. Sometimes we may not even be stumbling; we may just want to leave the narrow way for a while. Whatever the case may be, we are not going to be perfect.

A greater issue to me, though, is the point I mentioned earlier about the image Christians attach today to their heroes. Barnabas Piper wrote the following words in article for WORLD Magazine:

Christians often try too hard to find heroes. There is a distinct difference between appreciating someone’s story of redemption and making them a poster boy of faith. In doing so we put the emphasis on their lives and their works, and take it off of God’s grace. Grace is the differentiating characteristic between Christianity and every other religion, and when we downplay it we actually lose our witness. So how do we respond when one of our heroes relapses? We see ourselves in it and recognize the universal, deep need for God’s grace. This is what sets us apart and it’s what Josh Hamilton (and you) need now.

I remember talking with a friend once about this particular issue. I told him I thought it was interesting that all of the Christian testimonies I hear are from people who have totally overcome their issues. Wouldn’t it be odd, I asked, to hear a speaker say that they were still struggling with sin? No one would want to hear that, even though it would be totally identifiable for scores of people. People forget that Josh Hamilton had to be accompanied by a handler everywhere he went, couldn’t have cash on him, and had to submit to weekly urine tests to keep his job. It’s not like he was an addict and walked away scot-free. That seemed to be how we all wanted to view him, though.

There could always be an epilogue to anyone’s inspiring story. King David did a lot of wonderful things … then he saw a woman bathing on her roof. Noah was the only righteous man on Earth … then he got drunk. Hamilton’s story continued after the epilogue. Everyone’s does, even if they fall a thousand more times. Whatever Hamilton’s ultimate punishment may be, the grace that saved him will always be there. Just like it is for the rest of us.

Super Weird, Part II

Oh, America, America. What has happened to you?

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I mean, it’s been this way for years and years now. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, even during this young century: Everyone is looking for love. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to give love to someone else. Everyone just wants everyone to love each other. Love, love, love.

It’s always the funniest commercials that usually make the headlines the morning after the Super Bowl is played, and those are usually the ones which leave people talking the longest. Every year has its share of serious spots as well. Oddly enough, some of the most touching commercials in recent years have been advertisements for beer, although other companies struck a more gentle tone this year as well.

1422463197_budweiser-lost-dog-zoomMacDonald’s is encouraging people to pay for their food at the restaurant “with love.” A computer tech spilling a bottle of Coca-Cola inspired all kinds of thoughtful acts in an ad for the soda company. Numerous commercials touted the noble attributes of family and fatherhood. And then, of course, there was that adorable little Budweiser puppy dog being rescued from a pack of wolves by a herd of thundering Clydesdales. Even the horses were showing love.

There’s nothing wrong with love. It’s great. It’s fantastic. Close-knit families, kind human beings, even affectionate animals are all wonderful things.

They’re just not enough. They’ve never been enough. And they’re not ever going to be enough.

That was my pervading thought as I watched all these messages of love flash across the television screen in front of me. We live in a love-starved world. It’s a vacuum we are all desperately trying to fill. My question would be, though, if we have been promoting love for all this time, in so many creative and different and uplifting ways, why is it not taking hold? Why do we all still seem to be so lacking in it, and why do we still feel the need to promote it, as if our message is going to resound differently than the million that came before it?

We are running from God. We are running from the only love that can save us. We’ve been running from Him forever, decade after decade after decade, thinking we can replace His place in our hearts with just enough of this or just enough of that. It’s folly.

I am certainly not going to disparage anyone from promoting peace and love, especially considering the heinous acts human beings perpetrate on each other on a daily basis. Love needs to be shouted from the rooftops every chance we get, even during the Super Bowl. It’s an incomplete message, though, and it’s going to keep missing the mark until we understand that in order to love fully we have to turn to the one who loved us first.

I applaud every company which used its advertising dollars for this year’s Super Bowl to promote positive, encourage messages aimed at making this world a better place to live in. They can’t make us love God, though. We’re the only ones that can do that. He’s still waiting. Why are we?

The Myths Of Me

I would consider my teenage years to be largely wasted ones. I have no way of knowing, but I believe the depression I wrestle with today had me firmly in its grip even back then. It’s not that I don’t remember any happy times at all, but I don’t remember many that weren’t overlapped by the shadows that lurked in my mind. There was lots of confusion, anger, and sadness, even more than the usual teen mind is able to muster.

As a result, I formed a lot of perceptions about myself which were almost entirely negative. My self-esteem was virtually non-existent. These beliefs about myself were so powerful that I carried a large majority of them into adulthood. In fact, most days I feel as I’ve hardly grown at all over the years. This is who I thought I was then and, on many days, who I believe I am now:

– Unattractive physically
– Shy and awkward
– Immature emotionally
– Talentless
– Unappealing to the opposite sex
– Too skinny
– Not athletic enough
– Unable to obtain what I wanted
– Unsure of what I wanted to do with my life

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that I had what was termed a “nervous stomach,” which caused me all kinds of embarrassment. Or that my hair curled at puberty and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to make it look like anything. Or that I had the usual teenage bad skin and acne. I did the typical fast food job all teenagers these days get, and I was a miserable failure at it. I couldn’t even work at Wendy’s.

true falseI had a chance to take a long walk by myself today. The sun was out, my schedule was clear, and I was itching to get in some kind of physical activity, so I took off. I have always struggled with what is God’s voice and what is the voice I generate with my own thoughts, so I hesitate saying God spoke to me today, but as I walked I began to think about how I still view myself in much the same way I did back then … and how much of that is wrong.

One by one, counterarguments began to present themselves against what I have believed about myself for so long. I am not confident enough to say my life changed today, but I knew by the end of that walk that I needed to get to a computer or piece of paper and write down everything that had come into my mind. Here, then, are some arguments against my own perceptions of and beliefs about myself:

Unattractive physically – I found a woman who found me attractive enough to marry me, and we have been together now for 16 years. I’ve cut out most of the sugar from my diet and hardly ever drink carbonated beverages anymore, so I rarely get pimples now. I grew a beard and keep my hair cut short, so it looks neat now.
Shy and awkward – I still struggle mightily with social anxiety, but I couldn’t even count the number of people I have met over the years. I have so many friends now that I never would have dreamed of meeting. I know lots of people through my job.
Not athletic enough/Too skinny – I can ride my bicycle ten miles at a time on the road. I don’t have a gut hanging over the front of my pants like so many guys my age. An antidepressant and an occasional pill for seasonal allergies are the only medications I take, whereas I know so many of my friends already on blood pressure medication. I’m thinner now than when I graduated college.
Talentless – I can play guitar and bass fairly well. I won a Kentucky Press Award when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I have over 150 followers on this blog, and it’s only been up a few months. I’m on the radio every day. I can even sing a little.
Unsure of what I want to do with my life – After going to counseling for my depression the past couple of years, I have decided I want to pursue a Masters degree in counseling. I am currently studying to take the GRE test to get into graduate school.

I should have written all of the things I was thinking down immediately, because I’m certain there were more. I realized my stomach isn’t upset as much anymore because I realized years ago I was slightly lactose intolerant. All those cartons of milk in school were tearing my stomach to bits. And the list goes on…

I still feel as if I have so many things mentally to overcome. I still live in the same town I grew up in, so sometimes it seems as if I’ll never escape what others will always believe about me, no matter how much I change or grow. I still feel so out of place sometimes, and you probably noticed I didn’t address everything I had listed concerning how I felt about myself. I don’t want to be who I was anymore, though. I can’t ever reclaim those lost years; all I can do is make an attempt to make the ones I have left count for something. I hope and pray I can hold onto what I was thinking on that walk today. I’m so afraid I’ll forget.

Maybe I should start reading my own blog.